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Tilting at Windmills

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May 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

"THAT'S WHERE SCIENCE LEADS YOU"....Last week, after I saw Ben Stein's Expelled, I noted that "Stein spends the final half hour wandering around Dachau and telling us outright that his real motivation for attacking evolution isn't any real flaw in the theory, but his belief that Darwinism leads directly to Nazi-ism, eugenics, atheism, the breakdown of morals, and mass slaughter."

Perhaps you didn't believe me. After all, we liberals are always misrepresenting conservatives, aren't we? Well, here's Stein talking to telepreacher Paul Crouch and clearing up exactly where he stands on this:

When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed ... that was horrifying beyond words, and that's where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that's where science leads you.

Jonah Goldberg promises that he'll post "some thoughts on this and related stuff" on his Liberal Fascism blog, but so far nothing. I can't wait.

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (180)

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Comments

If the facts have a liberal bias, wouldn't that make them terrorists instead of Nazis?

Posted by: Memekiller on May 1, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Only unquestioning acceptance of the beliefs of your parents and your current society can save us from the horrors of Nazism, etc.

Posted by: John McCain: More of the Same on May 1, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'm also waiting for Jonah to address Tony Zirkle, the GOP clown from Indiana who spoke before a Nazi group about the dangers of Jews and the tyrant king porn dragon.

Posted by: Reader on May 1, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

As William Burroughs said (regarding the scientists at Los Alamos): "No job too dirty for a scientist." So this is what the Republican war on science is all about--saving us from the gas chamber!

Posted by: RWB on May 1, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

It has been long argued by people smarter than either Stein or Goldberg that Social Darwinism is the bastard child of Darwinism, however, very little real science was involved in the birthing of Social Darwinism. Mostly the ideologues who originated and promoted Social Darwinism mouthed popular slogans.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do...

The last time Stein and his relatives saw scientists telling him what to do it was their doctor's telling them to exercise more and eat a healthy diet.

Sheesh. If he wants to play the "Nazis used it so it is BAD" game then he should include all the vocations the Nazi's used - medical, military, engineers, everything.

Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Because Nazi's researched rocketry to kill people we should have scrapped the space program?

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, because nobody has ever killed anyone in the name of religion.

Posted by: Royko on May 1, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

The last time I talked to a scientist, he said my blood sugar was a bit high and I should cut down on sweets, eat more fruit and vegetables, and exercise more. So does Ben not see doctors, or does he not consider them scientists?

Posted by: David Margolies on May 1, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

"that's where science leads you."

Er... how about religon? It's still waaay ahead in the 'humans slaughtered' derby.

A rational look reveals that ethnic genocides have been around for thousands of years before 'science'. Only the tools have changed.

Posted by: Buford on May 1, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Because Nazi's researched rocketry to kill people we should have scrapped the space program?
Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 12:22 PM.

NASA hired the same Nazis.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

"That's where science leads you"

Wait, the alternative is what?

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

What is all this crap about medical doctors being scientists. While some medical doctors are scientists most are tradesmen and women.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Darwinism leads directly to Nazi-ism...

Whew! I was afraid there for a minute that maybe letting your country be taken over by a military-industrial complex might lead to something like that. But if we can just keep that nasty Darwin out of our schools, then we'll be all right. I am so relieved.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

The alternative is witchcraft trials and pogroms based on scientifically unvalidated belief that Jews have poisoned wells. Well, that's one example, anyway.

Modern technology was used by Nazis to exterminate Jews, whereas, the Spanish Inquisition, definitely not a scientific undertaking, used ancient technology. Technology and science are NOT the same thing.

Posted by: Barbara on May 1, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK


I read an interestin article about this at Scientific American. Six things Ben Stein doesnt want you to know

Posted by: Jet on May 1, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers,
Well if you want to get technical about it, there weren't any scientists telling his relatives to go to the showers to get gassed.

Posted by: DR on May 1, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, that's so stupid its hard to even respond sinc my head's about to explode. But perhaps someone should remind him that scientists are the ones who told us to take the polio vaccine(along with many others), or penicillin, or to stop blood letting, or how to make movies like the piece of idiotic crap he just produced. Perhaps he'd like to undo the last couple thousand years of scientific progress and all the billions of lives it made possible because some assholes used garbage pseudo-science as an excuse to kill people during a war. Obviously if it hadn't been for the scientists and eugenics, WWII would never have happened and the jews never persecuted or gassed. Ugh. Is he insane, a liar or just a complete moron?

Posted by: kahner on May 1, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

Posted by: tom lehrer on May 1, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think all our problems started when we launched those satellites into outer space. Things just haven't been the same since.

Posted by: steve duncan on May 1, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Los Angeles is out of first place in the American Lung Association's smoggy air contest. Pittsburgh is not amused:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08122/878162-114.stm

I like the fact that this story came out at the same time as Ben Stein's comments. As if we needed a reminder: it turns out that better science leads to.... healthier air, not gas chambers! Gee. How about that?

Anyway, from a Burger to an Angeleno: We're Number One!!!

Posted by: Daniel on May 1, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein is a socialist because he fears being gassed?

Posted by: Matt on May 1, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

One might want to ask Stein how it is that non-scientist humanities majors ended up leading people to the gas chambers, while humming Beethoven and Schubert and quoting Schiller and Goethe to each other.

There is a very good case to be made that "scientism", a very different animal, has its downsides. The late Walker Percy, among others, is eloquent on this topic.

Percy was a Catholic and a scientist, of sorts, who accepted the evidence for Evolution .... and the Resurrection.

These subtleties escape Stein, who, after all, is a showman, not a deep thinker. He's a gameshow host, a droning high school teacher, and the Jim Cramer of economists. A mid-level Rennaissance man.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

The Nazis murdered the Jews and so many others.

I wish nothing but the best for Stein, including some evolution in his thinking.

Posted by: Rookie Caulivito on May 1, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who equates science with Nazi rationalizations for murder doesn't understand either.

Posted by: tomeck on May 1, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Gaza is the new death shower.

Sadr City is the new killing field.

The regions of genocidal mass murder today are the results of racist ideologies abetted by technology, just like the Holocaust was.

Science can only serve genocide when it becomes a servant to a political ideology. American psychologists have made their science available to service torture and American electrical engineers have used their scientific skills to destroy countless Iraqi families. The ideology glorifying American and Isreali exceptionalism is responsible for horrors that are beyond comprehension today, and Mr. Stein is incapable of recognizing these current horrors because of his denial of the value of the social sciences, which have explained how authoritarianism leads to totalitarianism and mass murder. I would suggest Mr. Stein's cognizant deficiencies are caused by ideology.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You have to be intellectually honest on this one. For my part, I do think Stein's words here are inappropriate. The comment comes off as saying science and particularly Darwinism leads directly to eugenics and nazism. This is a clumsy statement at best.

I don't think it is correct and I don't think it stands up to empirical scrutiny. In mathematical terms, Stein appears to be saying elevation of science is a necessary and sufficient condition for the horrors of nazism. I think that elevation of science as the highest goal is a necessary, but clearly not a sufficient condition to generate nazism. Otherwise we would not have the many atheists who live very moral lives and fight evil, and in the past helped to stamp out this scourge.

But you must face the fact that atheism takes off the guard rails that keep people from moving to a situation like support for eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, ethnic cleansing, etc.

The truth is that any atheist is declaring that there is no such thing as the transcendent. This leaves you with no grounding for your morals. The person is free to choose the basis for their moral positions. This basis can be majority opinion, self perceptions, heart feelings, so-called common sense, or so-called rationalism, or other arbitrary bases.

Most atheists I have talked to including those who regularly report on this site, are particularly blind to the arbitrariness of an atheist's morals. Because they have sanitized it with scholarly sounding philosophical terms delivered by people with Ph.D's, they actually believe that they have scientific basis for their morality. They only have a scientific basis for morality once they have chosen their goal. Science can not say their choice for the goal is good or bad, it can only help to logically predict the effects of that choice.

In my opinion, it is not that morals can't be rationally chosen by an atheist. It is that you can only deduce those morals, once you have a goal in place. Its that goal or optimization function which must be chosen in order to posit a rational morality that makes it dangerous.

Wrong goal, implies evil morality. This can be applied to all people atheist or theist.

For example the devotion to evolution as correct, plus the added goal or optimization function of the creation of a superior race of human beings would lead directly to the "science" practiced whole-heartedly by the nazis.

In a similar way, the goal of protecting the reputation of the Church at all costs, leads to the immoral decision to keep in place priests who molest children to cite a particularly gross infraction by theists.

It is my opinion, God has given enough evidence, that He provides us with the best goals (glorifying Him) and best morals (Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself). I have chosen my basis, and now am engaged in trying to live my life according to this choice.

Do not think that science gives you any better ability to choose a basis. It makes you more consistent and logical, but it gives no judgement on the basis. Indeed under the wrong teaching, it can quickly lead to a whole country of educated people to support vast evil. This is what happened with the nazis under the auspices of uncontrolled social Darwinism.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Well... I mean, sure, it sounds silly. But I remember hearing that the reason William Jennings Bryan was such a fierce opponent of teaching evolution in schools was because the theory was appropriated by Social Darwinists. As a fiery populist and advocate for the common man, he just couldn't let that happen.

(I'll cop right now to not remembering the specfics of where I heard that, and being short enough on time that I'm not going to Google for it. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong.)

It's not rational, but rationality is just one aspect of how we go about forming opinions, alliances, and principles. Stein's leap from teaching evolution to concentration camps seems longer, and the slope much more slippery, than WJB's. I don't respect his reasons or his reasoning particularly, but I can see how someone would think that much more was at stake than I think there is in teaching good science.

I mean shit, isn't that what Dr. Zaius was trying to tell us all along?

Posted by: chiggins on May 1, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

What about Jewish scientists? There are probably a few of them. They must be awfully conflicted.

Posted by: flubber on May 1, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Er... how about religon? It's still waaay ahead in the 'humans slaughtered' derby

I believe this statement is factually incorrect.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

1) Expelled quotes Charles Darwin selectively to connect his ideas to eugenics and the Holocaust.
When the film is building its case that Darwin and the theory of evolution bear some responsibility for the Holocaust, Ben Stein's narration quotes from Darwin's The Descent of Man thusly:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

This is how the original passage in The Descent of Man reads (unquoted sections emphasized in italics):

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

The producers of the film did not mention the very next sentences in the book (emphasis added in italics):

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.

Darwin explicitly rejected the idea of eliminating the "weak" as dehumanizing and evil. Those words falsify Expelled's argument. The filmmakers had to be aware of the full Darwin passage, but they chose to quote only the sections that suited their purposes. -Sciam.com

Posted by: Jet on May 1, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Today is officially the "National Day of Prayer."

A day when stupid people can bow their heads to an imaginary being and feel good about handing over control of their lives to something other than themselves.

Posted by: Ranger Jay on May 1, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

I think all our problems started when we launched those satellites into outer space. Things just haven't been the same since.

I once rode with a cabdriver who told me the same thing, only nonironically. Also, he referred to all satellite launches as "moon shots" even though the large majority aren't going anywhere near the moon.

What is all this crap about medical doctors being scientists. While some medical doctors are scientists most are tradesmen and women.

Current medical practice and science have only a marginal relationship. Neither low fat diets nor weight loss for the slightly overweight have much scientific justification. (Exercise and fresh fruits and veggies are definitely good for you, though.)

Posted by: jimBOB on May 1, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK
The last time I talked to a scientist, he said my blood sugar was a bit high and I should cut down on sweets, eat more fruit and vegetables, and exercise more. So does Ben not see doctors, or does he not consider them scientists?The last time I talked to a scientist, he said my blood sugar was a bit high and I should cut down on sweets, eat more fruit and vegetables, and exercise more. So does Ben not see doctors, or does he not consider them scientists?

Physicians and scientists are overlapping sets, but the former is certainly not a subset of the latter. And, by and large, the physicians you are getting care from on a routine basis are no more scientists than your auto mechanic is.

Not, of course, that this justifies the Right's war against science, or Stein's personal contribution to it.


Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't some of Congressmen Souder's constituents call and ask him for his opinion of Ben Stein, the holocaust and science causing it?

Souder was featured in several segments of the movie (http://souder.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Issues.View&Issue_id=4e950503-19b9-b4b1-12ef-526cda4c8585) and seems close to this issue. Does he want intelligent design because science kills people?

Posted by: Expat Teacher on May 1, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

The root of Ben Stein's problem with science is that he is incapable of distinguishing between science, and total BS masquerading as science.

Science didn't kill Stein's relatives, or mine. (Other than: if you make people breathe poison gas, they will die, that is.) Hatred and paranoia, and the need for a locus for all that, killed them. A bunch of nonsensical pseudoscience was part of the justification for identifying Jews, gypsies, gays, etc. as the proper object for that hatred.

If Stein should have a problem with anyone on account of this, it shouldn't be Darwinists - it should be climate change denialists.

Unfortunately, Stein's too dumb to realize who is really the source of his problems. Kinda like the German people in the 1930s, come to think of it.

The person he should be worried about is...him.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on May 1, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

What about Jewish scientists? There are probably a few of them. They must be awfully conflicted.

Nah. We're all self-loathing, dontcha know.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on May 1, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Most atheists I have talked to including those who regularly report on this site, are particularly blind to the arbitrariness of an atheist's morals. Because they have sanitized it with scholarly sounding philosophical terms delivered by people with Ph.D's, they actually believe that they have scientific basis for their morality. They only have a scientific basis for morality once they have chosen their goal. Science can not say their choice for the goal is good or bad, it can only help to logically predict the effects of that choice." - John Hansen


Dang! There must be a design flaw in that chip I installed in John's brain and control remotely via satellite.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 1, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK
The root of Ben Stein's problem with science is that he is incapable of distinguishing between science, and total BS masquerading as science.

No, the root of Ben Stein's problem with science is that he's a committed devotee and long-time propagandist of the political Right, and science reveals the falsity of the things that the Right believes (more importantly, the things that the elites of the Right, like Stein, rely on the masses believing), and even more, that the approach to the world embedded in science leads people to question the dictates of authority, which is directly contrary to the ideology of the Right.

Stein is not an idiot, he is a committed ideologue and propagandist. Its not that he doesn't get science, its that he does get science and how it impacts what he wants people to believe.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Because Nazi's researched rocketry to kill people we should have scrapped the space program?"

Actually, what Stein is saying is worse--if he followed his own logic here, he'd disavow physics. Cause look what it lead to, don'tcha know?

Posted by: RWB on May 1, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Science doesn't kill people,people kill people.

Posted by: Gandalf on May 1, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Science doesn't kill people, the righteous kill people.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

John Hanson – Just for the record, most of the both the organized Catholic and Lutheran Churches, as well as most German Lutherans and Catholics, went along with the Nazis. That’s my problem with religious people – they claim a moral superiority which is just not backed up by their behavior. You might say the theory of religon based moral superiority fails when subjected to scientific test.

Posted by: fafner1 on May 1, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Jacob Bronowski, who himself lost family members in the concentration camps, said it better than I could ever hope to:

"It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz, this is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge or error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible."

Posted by: thalarctos on May 1, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Stein must be right. Because mass killings never occurred without gas chambers. I mean, using machetes and burning churches with people inside, that's not genocide.

Or wait, maybe it is. Maybe we should all be against fire and iron and steel, because the last time anyone used them against a Ruwandan, mass killings occurred.

What a tool.

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 1, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

And the study of economics, an unscientific parlor game to which Ben Stein's father apparently contributed, leads directly to Congolese kleptocracy.

It certainly seems like the US is headed in same direction as sub-Saharan Africa; I'm giving us five years until the Great Phoenix Penis Panic.

Posted by: theo on May 1, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

So ... let's see which of the following are the result of science, and then take a guess at which ones Stein has used:

penicillin ... electricity ... light bulbs ... cars ... planes ... radio ... television ... camera ... vaccines ... aspirin ... microwave ... cell phone ... nylon, rayon, teflon, etc. ... computer

Those are just things right off the top of my head that were all created by and with the help of **gasp** scientists!

So each time Stein uses any of those, he's helping the Nazis kill Jews. Or something.

I wonder how he feels about that?

Posted by: Mark D on May 1, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen But you must face the fact that atheism takes off the guard rails

It's actually pretty sad if we need the fear of an imaginary supernatural being to keep us from misbehaving. Give me a break.

It's pretty silly to think that the Supreme Creator of the Universe is so vain and insecure that he needs me to spend my days glorifying Him.

The most dangerous idea in human history is the idea of One True God because if my god is the One True one and you don't worhship Him, or if you fail to do so in exactly the manner that He has prescribed (to me) obviously you must be punished.

The gnarled old oak Tree behind my house told me last night that John Hansen is an unbeliever who does not glorify the One True Tree. What is to be done with him?

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Weenie,

Keep them remote control chips away from me!

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Ben Stein, smug, repulsive jerk that he is, doesn't even understand that evolutionary biology makes no assertion as to how life on earth got here in the first place. It simply explains how it progressed after it did. BIG difference!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 1, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites - I haven't got a chip in your brain, just your old oak Tree. It appears like the chip installed in your Tree is working just fine.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 1, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

fafner - You might say the theory of religon based moral superiority fails when subjected to scientific test.

fafner - just curious. You make a hypothesis that "..the theory of religon based moral superiority fails when subjected to scientific test..".

Have you actually made a thorough investigation into the veracity of this statement, or are you just parroting what others have said previously? I think rational inquiry does promote the moral superiority of the Christian religion ( note: not just "religion' but Christianity ).

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

thersites -

I am curious. What is it that keeps you from morally misbehaving?

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think rational inquiry does promote the moral superiority of the Christian religion..

Which is why this righteous person supports the troops!

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hansen,

How morally superior were the Christian crusaders who took Jerusalem in 1099 and killed all the Jews and Moslems? Their fellow, but non-Roman, Christians were merely exiled from the city, if I recall.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

thersites -

I did not ask you if you could cite a single event where people who were associated with the Christian label may have performed immoral actions, I asked you if you had done a thorough examination of the subject.

I for one have not. I have relied on the evidence presented by others who have researched this question and am quite confident that Christianity is a net force for moral goodness.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

penicillin ... electricity ... light bulbs ... cars ... planes ... radio ... television ... camera ... vaccines ... aspirin ... microwave ... cell phone ... nylon, rayon, teflon, etc. ... computer

Reminds me of the sketch from Kentucky Fried Movie where everything made from zinc oxide disappears, to hilarious effect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYeL3fowrHg

Posted by: have clue -- will travel on May 1, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

What is it that keeps you from morally misbehaving?

Just a simple sense that if we all behaved with some restraint the world would be a better place.

I don't say that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a bad rule. I just reject the notion that it takes the fear of God to make me follow that rule.

History is awash with blood spilled by people who believe that they're doing God's will.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

thersites -

I am curious. What is it that keeps you from morally misbehaving?

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008

Oh, oh, oh, tooooooo easy!

Posted by: optical weenie on May 1, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'll never be able to enjoy the beginning of Ferris Bueller's Day Off again.

Posted by: Brian on May 1, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I did not ask you if you could cite a single event...
I could cite thousands, if I didn't have a job to get back to. That was the first that came to mind. If you're going to say "those weren't real Christians, I'll paraphrase you what Lakota author Vine Deloria (God is Red, Custer Died for your Sins and several other fine bookds) said in response to that argument:
"What's the good of a religion that can't make its followers follow its teachings?"

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin cut off some of the transcript, which is even more troubling:

Stein: Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

It's not just evolution; science leads one to killing.

Posted by: afferent input on May 1, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I am certain that Santa Claus is a net force for moral goodness. Let's teach him in science class!

Posted by: leftfield on May 1, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen

I have no doubt that the teachings of Christ are a net good but I seriously doubt organized Christianity has been a net force for moral goodness. As I recall the Romans adopted Christianity as their state religion in order to more effectively maintain control of their empire--an empire that was never known for its moral clarity. The Christian church in the middle ages was more interested in political power and preserving the income stream achieved through selling indulgences than in advancing moral goodness. Moral goodness was never the prime motivator for the elite churchmen who launced crusades, reformation, counter reformation and the numerous purges of Jews. Untold thousands of women were burned as witches in the name of the organized church. Burning witches only ended 250 or so years ago. There is little doubt that had Christ been alive during the inquisition he would have been burned at the stake as a heretic.

While Christ was, without doubt, extraordinarily moral and there have been moral Christians through out the ages, organized Christianity itself has only rarely been a net force for moral goodness.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

History is awash with blood spilled by people who believe that they're doing God's will.

Yes, but History is awash in much more blood spilled by people who believed "..Just a simple sense that if we all behaved with some restraint".

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

[edit]Which is why this righteous person supports the troops' mission!

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Who cares what Goldberg has to say, John Derbyshire has already said what needs to be said about Expelled, Ben Stein, and enemies of knowledge like the Discovery Institute in A Blood Libel on Our Civilization.

It's nice to see conservatives telling their loons to pipe down once in a while. Stein appears to have allied himself with those who still celebrate Hitler, the haters of Western Civilization and tolerance, and appears to be completely unaware that he has done so. I'm sure the Taliban will give him an award for the work he has done to try to undermine the West.

Posted by: freelunch on May 1, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

History is awash with blood spilled by people who believe that they're doing God's will.

Yes, but unfortunately for your POV, History is awash with much more blood from people who were just doing their own misguided will.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I don't get it. Were the gas chamber attendants all scientists or something?

Posted by: Luther on May 1, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

The present is awash with blood spilled by Christians and other belivers in a deity.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but unfortunately for your POV, History is awash with much more blood from people who were just doing their own misguided will thinking it was God's will.

fixed it for ya.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I don't get it. Were the gas chamber attendants all scientists or something?
Posted by: Luther on May 1, 2008 at 2:50 PM

Nah, but some of them were doctors. (Just kidding.)

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

While Christ was, without doubt, extraordinarily moral and there have been moral Christians through out the ages, organized Christianity itself has only rarely been a net force for moral goodness.

This makes for a good statement, but I doubt you have truly investigated this issue from both sides and come to this conclusion. Sounds more like a pronouncement to justify believing Christ was a good teacher, but not joining any Church.

Incidentally, would you count World Vision - an organization which profoundly effects the lives of suffering people everywhere as a part of 'Organized Religion'.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

thersites - you mean the Russians who carried out Stalin's orders to purge millions, and killed many more than were killed in any religious event in history, thought they were doing God's will ?

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but unfortunately for your POV, History is awash with much more blood from people who were just doing their own misguided will.

Where's the evidence for this statement?

Posted by: ckelly on May 1, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I am curious. What is it that keeps you from morally misbehaving?

Oh good dog! Pick one of the following:

Respect for law and order

Parents who did their jobs diligently

Fear of retribution from law enforcement

Social mores

Emily Post

Feeding the cat

Mom would be disappointed in me and guilt me to death

If that isn't enough for you, stay the fuck away from me if you lose your faith and that is the only thing keeping your id in check.

Douchebag.

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

We are talking about a new good John. I'll count World Vision if you will count John Hagee and the crazy ass Christians who are trying to start a nuclear war between Islam and Israel to trigger the phony rapture and Armageddon

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen,

I'm not arguing that atrocities aren't committed by atheists. I'm just arguing against the notion that Christianity is inherently morally superior to other religions/ideologies. It doesn't excuse the millions killed in the name of Jesus of a few million more were killed in the name of Stalin.

Anyway, if Stalinism isn't a form of fundamentalism, what the hell is?

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

What motivated Stalin's killers is the same thing that motivated Hitler's and W. Bush's killers, ideology. It does not matter if an ideology uses a deity or not to justify eliminating non-compliant people.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

>"religon ahead in the 'humans slaughtered' derby
I believe this statement is factually incorrect"
-----------

Perhaps you're correct in absolute numbers of humans killed, but in deaths proportional to the total population of the time I think religon will give anything else quite a run for the title.

For example, a half million deaths relative to the world population of 1200-1400 [Catholic conquest of Europe] is a much bigger chunk than 6 million today [Cambodia]. So who killed 'more' do the numbers of bodies count... or the percentage kill rate?

I suppose the other issue would be the entanglement of religion with other political and ethnic issues.

Was the mass killing of native americans religious (kill the heathens), economic (take the land) or racial (kill the redskins).

Posted by: Buford on May 1, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

...if a few million more...

Stupid atheistic keyboard.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

that's where science leads you

Good thing he's safely stupid.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on May 1, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

volatile compound --

you left out the biggie. Fear of Norman.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I have to admit I am pretty clueless about John Hagee, and what he does. How much unjust suffering has he caused? Is it comparable to Hitler, Stalin? If he is worthy of pointing out as evidence for Christianity being not good, you would think I would have heard about the terrible things he has done.

Note: I don't think merely pronouncing that you are of the opinion that one church is superior to another church, or one lifestyle is better than another lifestyle, makes someone evil, do you?

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

The social sciences have already done a great deal to explain why authoritarianism and totalitarianism exist and why they lead to mass murder. Those who deny the knowledge of science and accuse it of being the reason for events like the Holocaust prove the validity of the scientific explaination of how ideology drives massive inhumane behavior.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

john hansen writes: "But you must face the fact that atheism takes off the guard rails that keep people from moving to a situation like support for eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, ethnic cleansing, etc."

speaking only for myself, my atheism has never led me to any of those things.

however, in the current religious cleanings sweepstakes we have jews vs. muslims, sunni vs. shia, etc etc

Posted by: djspellchecka on May 1, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

How much unjust suffering has he caused?

Why don't you ask the gay family members of those who follow him? Or do they deserve to suffer 'cuz they're fags?

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:
>"Physicians and scientists are overlapping sets, but the former is certainly not a subset of the latter. And, by and large, the physicians you are getting care from on a routine basis are no more scientists than your auto mechanic is."
--------

I must have missed the course requirements of auto mechanic trade school that included years of
Calculus, Physics, Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Statistics
etc... /snark


Posted by: Sloegin on May 1, 2008 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

For someone who isn't an atheist, you sure have it all figured out, don'tcha?

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Wait, atheists have arbitrary morals? Aren't hyper-religious people telling us all the time that abortion is wrong because it ends a life, but ending a life is when somebody in authority tells you it's okay, like when you want to punish someone or during a war - even if you kill total innocents who get in the way when you're hunting the "bad guys"? That seems pretty arbitrary to me, and I don't recall "Thou shalt not kill" having any subclauses. I do recall seeing a lot of people who want to do something bad with the imprimatur of religious authority interpret various scriptures to their own benefit. I also don't think Ben Stein has thought his metaphor all the way through. I'm sure in the few moments leading up to their deaths, millions of victims cried out to God for help, and he was apparently busy elsewhere. So, for argument's sake, let's say science and scientists are evil. It doesn't seem to me that religion is the most effective way to counter them.

Posted by: Jersey Tomato on May 1, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

It does not matter if an ideology uses a deity or not to justify eliminating non-compliant people.

I not sure what you mean here. Is just subscribing to an ideology and using it to discriminate amongst different groups of people a bad thing?

Then you must be shocked then that college administrators are banding together and sticking to their ideology of evolution to eliminate the non-compliant professors who believe that design might have something to do with the present state of the world. Disgusting use of ideology isn't it.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Not shocked. Relieved.

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

John

I am not asserting the superiority of one doctrine over another. Most of the organized Christian churches and their members are more than capable of embracing evil. I recall learning in a history class that during the 16th century, a group of protestant sailors discovered the survivors of Spanish ship wreck near Florida. The protestant sailors were good and loyal members of the royal navy. After talking to the pathetic survivors to determine if they were Catholics, the English captain, on advice of his protestant Chaplain, took the Catholic survivors, including women and children, to an isolated spot on the Florida coast and slit their throats. A few of the Spanish survivors suddenly found protestantism and were spared. Sadly this story isn't isolated.

Religion allows someone like the Royal Navy captain to commit acts of murder without the slightest remorse. Obviously the person who doesn't believe in God the same way must be less than human.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Those darn college administrators. Next they'll be excluding those who don't believe in that gravity heresy.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Jersey Tomato-

The commandment is not "Thou shalt not kill". This, I have been told by people who know Hebrew, is a bad translation. The commandment is "Thou shalt not murder".

If you do not understand this distinction, or are unwilling to understand the difference between a soldier defending a nation, and someone committing murder, I am afraid I can not help you. You will stay willingly ignorant. Which is not a crime, its just bad for your intellectual development.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Religion allows someone like the Royal Navy captain to commit acts of murder without the slightest remorse.

Yes,

But it is also Religion that provides the guidelines which labels this act as evil.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

How rich is this? A bible-bleater concerned for the intellectual development of someone smart enough to not believe in fairy tales!

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK
I must have missed the course requirements of auto mechanic trade school that included years of Calculus, Physics, Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Statistics etc...

Taking science coursework doesn't make you a scientist any more than taking a course about Christianity makes you a priest. Being a scientist is about what you do.

Most physicians don't do science; they use the results of science other people have done the same as mechanics and other tradesmen. Some physicians do science, but being a physician doesn't make you a scientist.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

John

Murder means "kill without permission or legally recognized excuse" doesn't it?

Who says the guy giving permission has the actual authority to give permission to kill someone? When did God recognize excuses?

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Religion that provides the guidelines which labels this act as evil.

Providing society hasn't decided these "others" need a good killin, of course.

Common sense also tells us these acts are evil, by the way.

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Is just subscribing to an ideology and using it to discriminate amongst different groups of people a bad thing?

Is that what the Christian kidz are calling mass murder in the name of some idol (deity or otherwise) these days? "Discrimination"?

Posted by: shortstop on May 1, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

But it is also Religion that provides the guidelines which labels this act as evil.

That's right. Because before Christianity, or even before the Ten Commandments, no country had laws against murder.

Oh, they did?

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

John Hanson wrote: fafner - just curious. You make a hypothesis that "..the theory of religion based moral superiority fails when subjected to scientific test. Have you actually made a thorough investigation into the veracity of this statement."

Not a scientific study no, just a lifetime of observation and reading. You have to admit Christianity was the source and the driving force behind anti-Semitism. Likewise it was self avowed Christians who quoted the Bible to support slavery in the ante-bellum south and apartheid South Africa. As for the Nazis, check out “Theologians under Hitler” by Ericson – it’s not a pretty picture. Not saying individual Christians aren’t good people, just that as a group they don’t behave any better than the rest of us. As Gandhi said after his rational inquiry into Christianity: "Oh, I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Posted by: fafner1 on May 1, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Next they'll be excluding those who don't believe in that gravity heresy

Yes, but you better hope they don't go after the ones who don't recognize satire.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

You have to admit Christianity was the source and the driving force behind anti-Semitism.

I don't admit this. I suggest you read Telushkin and Prager. "Why the Jews?" to correct your misunderstandings.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Being a scientist is about what you do...Most physicians don't do science; they use the results of science other people have done the same as mechanics and other tradesmen. Some physicians do science, but being a physician doesn't make you a scientist.

I agree with Dicely on this point. (Yeah. I know. Shocking.) I have pointed out to many a swelled-head resident that came into the lab to get pissy with the med techs that it is our job to take the guesswork out of their jobs, and without us, they might as well revert to leeches and bleedings.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on May 1, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

fafner1 -

I too have to admit I have not done a scientific study on the subject either. I do not think it is possible due to the polarized attitudes of people. My view is most formed by my view of contemporary society.

Most people do not think too deeply. My experience is that Christianity has the best hope of creating moral people.

This hardly means that being a Christian is a necessary and sufficient condition for being moral. Quite the contrary, the abuse of religion as a means for controlling people and getting them to commit mass evil is well documented.

I just feel that God has given us the best hope for taking sinful man, and getting him to behave better toward his fellow human being.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but you better hope they don't go after the ones who don't recognize satire.

There is, however, a big drive underway to take out the ones who think they're comedically gifted and, you know, aren't.

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK
Then you must be shocked then that college administrators are banding together and sticking to their ideology of evolution to eliminate the non-compliant professors who believe that design might have something to do with the present state of the world.

And your proof of this is ... ? Or is that belief based on faith?

Religion is a creation of man in order to gain power over others, and to be used as a way to explain that which has yet to be explained.

The fact Hansen thinks one must be religious in order to be "moral" is proof of the first: One must or must not do X because God said so.

The second is proven by those who believe in creationism: It's intellectually easier (or, IMHO, lazy) to just ascribe life or evolution or lottery results on something undefined and unknowable, rather than putting forth the effort to actually find the truth.

There's a reason there have been -- and still are -- so many different religions. It's just that the type of religion depends on the culture that needs controlling and phenomena that needs explaining.

Posted by: Mark D on May 1, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Dicely on this point. (Yeah. I know. Shocking.) I have pointed out to many a swelled-head resident that came into the lab to get pissy with the med techs that it is our job to take the guesswork out of their jobs, and without us, they might as well revert to leeches and bleedings.

Well, but you're agreeing with cmdicely so you can take a shot at physicians, while Dicely quite probably would be happy to extend his earlier statements about physicians to include techs. Or, now that I've said this, he may take the opposite view just to be Dicely.

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a sec Hansen.

Upthread you seemed mystified that someone could behave in a moral manner without religion. Now at 4:08 you seem to accept that maybe it isn't necessary to be religious to be moral, but your opinion is that Christianity provides a superior framework for morality, in spite of evidence to the contrary, starting with the crusades, moving through the inquisition, slavery, Nazi genocide, apartheid and the Serbian atrocities in the Balkans.

Cherry pick much?

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hansen,

Atheists claim a ... scientific basis for their morality.

How sweet of you to know what atheists believe.

As a (lapsed) physicist I trust you know what "orthogonal" means? Science is not opposite to religion or morality. Science is orthogonal to religion and morality.

There is no scientific basis for morality.

You will then claim that any morality not based on the Bible is arbitrary. You also claim your morality, based on the Bible, is NOT arbitrary.

Do you believe your Bible is inerrant? I hope not because that inerrancy of the Bible is easily disproved. Have you read the Bible? Surprisingly many authoritarian followers who claim that the Bible is the MOST important book in the world to them have not actually read it. Have you read the Bible, all of it? If so was it the Catholic version? It differs you know. I've read all of the King James Protestant Bible.

If you believe the Bible was "inspired" by God then you admit that the Bible has been changed over the years and thus while it started out perfect it is now imperfect. In this way the Bible is at least partially arbitrary.

Now we are arguing about degrees of arbitrariness.

In my personal observation the morals of atheists align much better with my own morals than do the morals of some so-called "Christians."

My personal morals are based on my understanding of Christ and my attempt to behave as Christ would.

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Well, but you're agreeing with cmdicely so you can take a shot at physicians, while Dicely quite probably would be happy to extend his earlier statements about physicians to include techs.

Showing my age using 'med tech' - For over a decade Medical Technologists have been called Clinical Laboratory Scientists because that is what we do...scientific analysis and research.

But point taken:)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on May 1, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

As a (lapsed) physicist...

One morning you woke up and just...had Doubts with a capital D, huh? Laws of motion just started to seem like something the power structure had invented to keep the people down? Kinetic molecular theory suddenly looked like the ravings of the superstitious? Causality was something you just couldn't trust and didn't need in your life anymore?

Yeah, I've been there. It's rough, man, that first moment of disillusionment.

Posted by: shortstop, just messin' witcha on May 1, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hansen,

My experience is that Christianity has the best hope of creating moral people.

You are displaying one of the characteristics of authoritarian followers. You are not arguing a consistent position. You are parroting sound bites that ultimately contradict each other.

Clearly you are much more comfortable attacking a strawman atheist than you are supporting your position. It is easier to throw mud than it is to defend one's own position.

If you wish to defend your position then please state it clearly and I'll respond.

For example, you speak of God. Is there one? How do you know God's will? You speak of Christianity but there are a million Christian sects. Which sect in particular do you mean? If you mention the Bible, please say which version.

If we don't agree on terms this will be futile.

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

For authoritarians everything, including science, must be bound up by traditional authority. Stein's perception is not very different from that of the orthodox Catholic Church or that of conservative evangelicals or even that of Edmund Burke in the years after the French Revolution. Science by its very materialist nature and rational approach to life brings the basic assumptions- the basic claims to authority- of tradition into question.

For authoritarians traditionalism prevents a decline in social order. It sets the bounds for political and social possibility. Even if the foundation of traditional authority is false it still has a political purpose. Because of this authoritarians have been at war with democracy, rationalism, liberalism, science and anything else that can upset the balance. In their minds traditional authoritarianism prevents radical authoritarianism like fascism or the Jacobin Reign of Terror before it. But history shows the traditional authorities, think of the Weimar Republic, tend to throw their support behind the authoritarian radicals.

Ben Stein's Christian allies in the fight against scientific rationalism are not the Church of England in 1800. They are themselves a radical minority seeking to establish a new authority in a decadent liberal society. This is just what the fascists proposed in Europe in the 1920's.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 1, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop,

As a (lapsed) physicist...

Hey, nice to see you! I was referring to John Hansen the lapsed physicist.

I'm a physicist wannabe, hoping to be a "born again physicist" someday.

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

When you're born again as a physicist, what do they baptize you with? Do I even want to know?

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio,

Oh yeah. Don't forget that authoritarians make excellent followers. They ask no questions, they work very hard, they donate much money, and they'll accept most any rationalization from their leaders.

If you want easy, strong, energetic disciplined political support the authoritarians are the best place to get it.

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen wrote: "What is it that keeps you from morally misbehaving?"

That question is unanswerable unless you define specifically what you mean by "morally misbehaving".

I do my best to "behave" in ways that I believe will effectively realize my values. Someone else may have different values, or have similar values but different beliefs about what actions will effectively realize those values, and will therefore behave differently.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 1, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

There will never be an agreement on which religion is the most moral. That is because there is no "standard" for morality - it is, in effect, something that someone associates with their particular values.

SecAn is right by saying someone may have different values, or similar vcalues but different beliefs about what actions....

Now with regard to the statement that science leads to killing ..... You folks all better watch out, I might just sneak up behind you and .... poof, hit you with a mess o' photons.

Sheesh, I couldn't even get myself to dissect the rat in biology class. And it was already dead.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 1, 2008 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen wrote: "What is it that keeps you from morally misbehaving?"

I think this is why authoritarians & theists have so much overlap. They can't understand morality or meaning deriving from anything other than authority. But that just moves the problem to a black box one level up.

They never ask the obvious question: why is this "god" virtual-alpha-male so concerned about the rules followed by hairless apes, and their submission to Him? Why collect and sort our little souls to be put into storage or made to suffer forever? Is it like how some people are obsessed with hockey cards? Does He get to level-up in a game if he gets to 1 billion good ones? Is God a narcissistic 10 year old with OCD, fear of sex, and a problem with pigs?

Living things generate meaning. Human beings generate values. It's your role as a human being.

We're all going to die, all made up of bits from our parents and culture, and so are not really that "special" despite what our parents/teachers told us, so rationally your larger "self" is the sphere of culture and humanity that you're arose out of. A sane system of values and morality will be self-consistent and have long term survival value for life and culture; so that tends to involve a lot of "enlightened self-interest" behavior.

There is no other source of meaning or values in the universe. Deal with it.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on May 1, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

optical weenie,

Sheesh, I couldn't even get myself to dissect the rat in biology class. And it was already dead.

You had rats?! All we had were worms. Granted that the farther an animal is from us on the evolutionary tree the less squeemish we are about it but I would have NO trouble dissecting a rat.

I got to condition rats in college. It helped me later on to raise my children. Positive reinforcement at semi-random intervals works every time. The kids didn't like the meal pellets though.

I kid, I kid.

Posted by: Tripp on May 1, 2008 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Irony alert:

Self-styled Christian moralist and frequent Bush Administration apologist John Hansen began his rants by admonishing Kevin to be intellectually honest.

What it boils down to, Hansen, is that you believe your brand of Christianity to be the one true religion, you believe yourself to be a moral person, you believe, while admitting you don't really have evidence, that atheists are responsible for more atrocities and suffering than Christians -- the Soviet Union lasted less than a hundred years, bub, and Stalin less than that. Shall we discuss the Dark Ages? How about the inquisition? The religious wars of Europe? Martin Luther's overt anti-Semitism? -- and, most of all, you believe in a hackneyed and false portrayal of atheists, Mr. Intellectual Honesty.

I, for one, don't need fear of an imaginary bearded sky pixie to convince me to love my wife and children or that acting in a socially acceptable manner is a Good Thing.

By the way, Hansen, Buddhism produces moral people without requiring a belief in God or His eternal punishment at all.

Self-righteous jackass.

Posted by: Gregory on May 1, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen:

It is my opinion, God has given enough evidence, that He provides us with the best goals (glorifying Him) and best morals (Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself). I have chosen my basis, and now am engaged in trying to live my life according to this choice.

You are correct that a Christian's goal, as communicated by the New Testament, is to glorify God on earth with the goal of going to heaven and glorifying him there eternally. According to Jesus, life on earth is merely the necessary prelude to this state. If you actually prioritize your life this way, congratulations.

You are a member of very, very elite and tiny group. You don't make an effort to be comfortable, much less indulged. You own nothing more than you need to be healthy, and to have time to pray and do good to others. If someone strikes you on one cheek, you turn the other cheek to him. If someone takes your coat, you don't stop him from taking your shirt. If you have anything more than what you need to survive, you give it to anyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, you do not demand it back.

If you have children, you make it clear to them always that their salvation is the only important thing to you, which they will earn by worshipping God and doing good to others. You teach them that a college education, marketable skills, athleticism, and beauty are more likely to lead to damnation than good things. Because woe to the rich, for they have already received their comfort, and woe to those who are well fed now, for they will go hungry. Woe to those who laugh now, for they will mourn and weep.

I don't mean that you are perfect and never slip. I merely mean that you organize your life according to the principles that you should lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and that whatsoever you do to the criminals, poor, insane, foolish, uneducated and stupid, you do to Jesus.

I have never personally met a Christian who actually puts salvation first in anything other than lip service. It never crosses the mind of most Christians that Jesus would frown on killing in the defense of private property. They never question that they deserve a large, late model vehicle, spacious home, sensual comfort, a nice vacation and entertainment more than the needy deserve their discretionary income. They're sure Jesus would be fine with collateral damage in warfare. They're terrified to die, and will try just about anything to prolong their lives.

So I don't think the Christian goal of salvation really has much impact on how people live their lives. Very few are as dedicated as you to that goal.


Posted by: cowalker on May 1, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

college administrators

College adminstrators, employers and military enlistment officers make discriminations about people all the time. Those who do not meet the requirements for college, employment or even military duty are not eliminated from society.

I am familiar with a big box nondenominational church in my city which does not allow cohabitating heterosexual adults to become members. That is discrimination for noncompliance of this particular church's doctrine. If the church stoned couples to death for cohabitating, that would be elimination for noncompliance. What prevents this church from eliminating these couples is not God's law, but secular law.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Couldn't agree more. In every society about 25% of the population is prone to authoritarianism. They make the best followers and can always be called upon by amoral leaders to do immoral things. It is a constant struggle in any democracy to keep this natural tendency from getting out of hand.

Morality like everything else humans do has a genetic basis. And like all things that have a genetic basis our moral sense has evolved. Moral values are best described as abstract rules of valuation. They are context dependent, but rule bound. Some have begun to think of morality like language. Different cultures may come up with different moral codes for living within society. But these differences are founded on a common and natural human moral sense. But this common moral sense should be somewhat variable within the human population and it will be influenced by environment. Double high authoritarians, for instance, do not fall near the human norm.

A good book to read on this subject is Marc Hauser's Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 1, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, nice to see you! I was referring to John Hansen the lapsed physicist.

I'm a physicist wannabe, hoping to be a "born again physicist" someday.

Back atcha. Are you washed in the blood of the gamma ray?

Posted by: shortstop on May 1, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Being good is often rewarding, even self-rewarding, which reinforces the behavior. Being bad can be rewarding, too, especially if being bad is rewarded by a group of peers or a belief system, which reinforces the behavior. Milgram demonstrated, with science, how people are influenced by a rewarding authority to be bad.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK
You have to be intellectually honest on this one.

Translation: you have to agree with me!

But you must face the fact that atheism takes off the guard rails that keep people from moving to a situation like support for eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, ethnic cleansing, etc.

That's not a fact; that's an opinion. An opinion, moreover, wholly unsupported by anything resembling logic, reason, or data. When you can learn to tell the difference between fact and opinion, we might be able to have a profitable conversation. Until then, no.

The truth is that any atheist is declaring that there is no such thing as the transcendent.

Going by the most of the various dictionary definitions of that word, I know of no atheist who would make such a declaration. This statement is false.

This leaves you with no grounding for your morals.

This, too, is an unsupported assertion. And a rather silly one, since your "morals" can be "grounded" by witnessing the effects of your words and your deeds on others, and vice versa.

The person is free to choose the basis for their moral positions.

As are those who believe in a given faith. You cannot pretend that there are no ambiguities, no uncertainties, no differences of opinion in any modern faith, which leaves individuals quite free to pick and choose precisely which moral positions they choose to embrace.

This basis can be majority opinion, self perceptions, heart feelings, so-called common sense, or so-called rationalism, or other arbitrary bases.

Precisely as is the case with non-atheists.

Most atheists I have talked to including those who regularly report on this site, are particularly blind to the arbitrariness of an atheist's morals.

Absent any evidence to the contrary, forgive me if I don't take your word for it that such atheists exist. Atheists, in general, are more aware of the "arbitrariness" of everyone's morals, precisely because they have to deal with idiots like you all the time.

Because they have sanitized it with scholarly sounding philosophical terms delivered by people with Ph.D's, they actually believe that they have scientific basis for their morality.

ROFL.... That statement ties in nicely with the anti-science of Ben Stein, doesn't it? In any case, since you present none of these "scholarly sounding philosophical terms," nor a debunking of the same, as with your other assertions in this post, there is nothing there.

They only have a scientific basis for morality once they have chosen their goal. Science can not say their choice for the goal is good or bad, it can only help to logically predict the effects of that choice.

Um, to the best of my knowledge, "science" is resolutely, and appropriately, neutral when it comes to "morality", nor am I aware of anyone who believes otherwise or who is not aware of the limitations of science in this regard. Again, you're simply making assertions and offering up strawman arguments.

In my opinion, it is not that morals can't be rationally chosen by an atheist. It is that you can only deduce those morals, once you have a goal in place.

My opinion is that your second sentence is complete bullshit, as is the rest of the strawman framework you derive from this non-existent foundation.

For example the devotion to evolution as correct, plus the added goal or optimization function of the creation of a superior race of human beings would lead directly to the 'science' practiced whole-heartedly by the nazis.

Um, since the betterment of mankind is equally a religious goal, I'm afraid that you are not making your case. Again, you're simply making shit up.

It is my opinion, God has given enough evidence, that He provides us with the best goals (glorifying Him) and best morals (Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself). I have chosen my basis, and now am engaged in trying to live my life according to this choice.

Which you are free to do, nor is anyone telling you otherwise. It is my opinion that you're full of shit and that my "best morals" are the equal of yours. Thus far, you have yet to show why my choices and my life are in any way inferior to yours.

Do not think that science gives you any better ability to choose a basis.

Again with the strawman arguments and unsupported assertions. For someone who apparently feels strongly about this, one would think that you would have stirred yourself to actually do some basic research on this topic. Are you so afraid of having your convictions challenged?

It makes you more consistent and logical, but it gives no judgement on the basis.

Nor does it pretend to. Nor does any intelligent individual pretend it does.

Indeed under the wrong teaching, it can quickly lead to a whole country of educated people to support vast evil. This is what happened with the nazis under the auspices of uncontrolled social Darwinism.

Again, so, too, can religion, nor have you shown otherwise.

Posted by: PaulB on May 1, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Re college administrators – Many private universities have departments of theology. It is unusually to find an avowed atheist in such departments. Yet one doesn’t hear of atheistic theologians complaining that they are being discriminated against and are being driven out of the field.

Posted by: fafner1 on May 1, 2008 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen

I have been following your posts in this thread. It would be easy for me to lapse into snark, but I don't think that would ad much to the discussion.

You seem not to understand the differences between religion, morality and ethics. I can assure you that you don't have to be religious to have a firm moral compass, nor do you have to be religious to adopt a solid set of ethical standards. You can be very religious and have a horrible set of moral principles.

You also seem to confuse science with atheism. They are not only not the same thing, they are not even connected. Science is all about an approach to understanding how the universe works. Atheism is a leap of faith or belief based on the idea that since nobody has seen a god and so far none seems necessary to explain the universe there is no god. Of course, when you get right down to it, there are questions that are unknowable to science. Whether those unknowable questions create a space for a god or not is a matter of faith.

Atheism, since it is "faith" based is far closer to religion than science.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory wrote: "By the way, Hansen, Buddhism produces moral people without requiring a belief in God or His eternal punishment at all."

Indeed, Buddhism has an empirical moral standard: actions which tend to produce well-being are moral and should be cultivated (e.g. the Eightfold Path and the Five Precepts), and actions which tend to produce suffering are not, and should be avoided.

Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher' ... but when you yourselves know 'These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them ... when you yourselves know 'These things are good; these things are not blameable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.

-- The Buddha, Kalama Sutra

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 1, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK
But it is also Religion that provides the guidelines which labels this act as evil.

It is also Religion that provides the guidelines which label many acts of evil as acceptable, desirable, or even obligatory. Sure, the King James Bible says "thou shalt not kill" (and perhaps you prefer "thou shalt not murder"), it also says "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"; and, historically, both of those passages have been used to justify killing on the flimsiest of evidence.

Virtually any act good or evil can be—has been, even—at one time or another justified by religion. Ditto with areligious ideologies. There certainly is very little reason to believe that morality, by almost any conception*, is particularly uniquely associated with religion as opposed to its absence.

Now, its certainly natural for anyone to believe that there own belief system is more right than others (indeed, to say "I believe X" is to say that "I believe X is more true than not-X", so to have a belief system is quite arguably synonymous with believing that that system is more correct than any other), but even so one need not believe, even if one is religious, that religiosity per se is a good in and of itself without reference to the content of that religiosity, or that religiosity is categorical better than areligiosity.

* unless, of course, one views religiosity as moral in and of itself as a first principle; in which case, naturally, that aspect of morality is uniquely associated with religion. But that's just plain circular.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK
Indeed, Buddhism has an empirical moral standard: actions which tend to produce well-being are moral and should be cultivated (e.g. the Eightfold Path and the Five Precepts), and actions which tend to produce suffering are not, and should be avoided.

"Well-being" is not an empirical quantity, and therefore the moral standard you articulate is not empirical. (Note that I do not say, or mean, that it is not desirable and worth applying.)

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK
Indeed, Buddhism has an empirical moral standard: actions which tend to produce well-being are moral and should be cultivated (e.g. the Eightfold Path and the Five Precepts), and actions which tend to produce suffering are not, and should be avoided.

"Well-being" is not an empirical quantity, and therefore the moral standard you articulate is not empirical. (Note that I do not say, or mean, that it is not desirable and worth applying.)

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Beyers wrote: "Science is all about an approach to understanding how the universe works. Atheism is a leap of faith or belief based on the idea that since nobody has seen a god and so far none seems necessary to explain the universe there is no god. Of course, when you get right down to it, there are questions that are unknowable to science."

Science is fundamentally, and most importantly, about empiricism. The power of science arises from its epistemology -- that is, its commitment to empirical observation as the ultimate arbiter of truth.

A scientific claim is, by definition, a statement about or model of experience (a.k.a. "reality" or "the world" or "nature") that can be used to make predictions about the outcome of empirical observations (a.k.a. "experiments").

To the extent that the predictions made by such a statement or model are confirmed by empirical observation (preferably careful, replicable and quantitative observation) the statement or model is regarded as "true".

Scientific "truth" is therefore always contingent and never absolute, since it is always possible that future observations will falsify a statement or model, necessitating the development of new statements or models whose predictions are in accord with the results of observation.

Moreover, scientific "truth" is limited to statements or models which can generate predictions that can be tested against empirical observation. Claims that do not generate such predictions cannot in principle be tested against observation, and are therefore by definition not "scientific".

(Note that a "scientific" claim is not necessarily true. The claim that the Earth is flat is, in fact, a "scientific" claim even though it is false -- precisely because it can be tested against observation to determine whether it is true or false.)

If the claim that "God" or "a god" or "gods" exist could generate predictions that can be experimentally tested against empirical observation, then it can be addressed by science.

However, as far as I can tell, theistic religions generally do not offer any predictions that could be tested against empirical observation to evaluate the "truth" (in the scientific sense) of their claims.

Nor, as far as I can tell, do theistic religions offer their own methods of evaluating the "truth" of claims -- other than "it is true because we say it is". For some people, that seems to be sufficient. Others find it unsatisfactory.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 1, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely said:

""Well-being" is not an empirical quantity, and therefore the moral standard you articulate is not empirical. (Note that I do not say, or mean, that it is not desirable and worth applying.)"

It's probably not a quantity, agreed, but I've seen people doing well and people doing poorly, and my idea of what it is to do well is influenced in large part by watching them, also by sciences like psychology, biology, and medicine. The notion of well-being sure seems empirical.

What's missing?

Posted by: DBake on May 1, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote: "Well-being is not an empirical quantity"

Of course it is. You yourself can empirically observe, directly, whether you are experiencing well-being or suffering (or various combinations thereof).

You may be confusing "empirical" with "objective". "Objective" refers to that which is accessible to multiple observers. "Subjective" refers to that which is accessible to only one observer.

Well-being has both objective and subjective aspects. For example, there are objective measures of physical well-being, e.g. physical health.

Other aspects of well-being are more subjective, but that doesn't mean that they are not accessible to empirical observation -- only that they may be accessible to empirical observation only by the person who is experiencing them.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 1, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but you better hope they don't go after the ones who don't recognize satire.

As far as I can tell Mr. Hansen, all your posts are satire... or should be.

Posted by: ckelly on May 1, 2008 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK
You yourself can empirically observe, directly, whether you are experiencing well-being or suffering (or various combinations thereof).

Whether I am experiencing well-being or suffering does not tell me whether my action produces well-being or suffering (except for me), which does not seem to be the point you were making about Buddhism, and, even in that narrow sense, there are problems related to the time window of results and what is observable and determinable.

I'd agree that the quotation holds out the standard as being an empirical one, but I would argue that the standard it suggests is, in fact, not an empirical one, since the standard it suggests requires knowledge of other people's internal subjective experience resulting from the actions. (In part; there are semi-empirical indicia reference, like the condemnation aspects, though the reference to the wisdom of those condemning returns even that one out of the realm of the truly empirical.)

Posted by: cmdicely on May 1, 2008 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

This is hard to answer "Do I believe the Bible to be inerrant". Yes I do. However, even in answering this there are so many questions. What does it mean "inerrant".

I believe the Bible is inerrant in the sense that the original documents are God's communication to the world through human authors. In this communication God used words. The weakness of communicating with words is that even a perfectly communicated document depends on accurate understanding what is written. But God also used the perspective of the writer to communicate his truth. For example in the book of Job there are many statements recorded about God, that are not true. But God even reports in the end the Bildad the Shuhite and the others have not spoken of him correctly. In this sense the Bible is inerrant.

The Bible also uses all kinds of language including metaphor, symbolism, prophecy, typology. There is no cliff notes that explains all of it and tells us what to take literally, what is an extension of a literal story to a prophetic time, etc. It is a book worthy of a lifetime of study. I have read through the whole Bible many times ( not just once ), and continue to get wisdom from it every day.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Ron,

Thank-you for not responding with snark.

I do not equate science with atheism. However, in the context of the discussion, the word "science" as used by Ben Stein in the original quote was more directed at a materialistic viewpoint which elevates science to a basis of morality. Science itself with a textbook definition is extremely limited in what it can do. But then again, if all people thought carefully and used the correct definition of science, they would realize that someone can refuse to believe evolution, and still practice good science. Then Expelled would have never been made.

Sorry if this confused you.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 1, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

Nevertheless Kevin, there is a certain amoralism (not to be confused with immoralism) associated with science. Sure, it's about studying the world in an objective way and so we shouldn't expect it to get into ethics, but some tend to go into positivism, to stretch the bounds of what is permissible in experimentation, etc. IOW, not everyone can handle an austere system like that and keep it in perspective.

Posted by: Neil B. on May 1, 2008 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

volatile compound, I am surprised that you didn't put basic respect for the other being as a direct reason for behaving ethically in your list upthread. Your listed reasons are more like "follow along" or digressions than essential appreciation of fundamental rights.

BTW, if you (or anyone here) know physical chemistry: why does a sensitive compound like NI3 explode when stroked by a feather, if the molecules in it are already banging each other at several km/s?

Posted by: Neil B. on May 1, 2008 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen, what do you mean by "The Bible"? What makes you so sure the Church councils chose wisely in putting the Revelation in but not the Shepard of Hermas, the Gospel of Thomas, etc? Are the Apocrypha in the Old Testament (still accepted by the Catholic Church, and - very much covered up it seems -original King James Bible!) also inerrant? Can't you just believe that people wrote about God and they could just be plain wrong? Are you aware of all the contradictions, the sayings about "The time is coming soon" that are about whatever is supposed to wrap it all up, etc?

Posted by: Neil B. on May 1, 2008 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist

If you are going to elaborate on my point you could at least spell my name correctly.

It is nice to watch you use big words to state the obvious.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

John

What do you mean "believe in evolution?"

Science doesn't "believe in evolution." Evolution is a working hypothesis--a theory that explains how life changes over time to fill the world. No real scientist "believes" in evolution. Real scientists continually test evolution. So far it has passed every test. Once it fails a test it will be replaced. Once people start "believing" in evolution they leave the world of science and enter the world of religion.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

This is easily the most interesting discussion on a comment thread I've seen in quite some time, and I thank John Hansen for that.

With regard to whether atheism or religion has caused more suffering, I think it's a fools question. Should we account the Nazis as atheists? When they made liberal use of religious symbols and religious leaders, while other religious leaders opposed them, some openly, some in secret. I'm sure that some of the guards at Auschwitz were devoted churchgoers. How do you make an accounting?

The Nazi's killed 6.5 million in death camps. I seriously doubt that all the Inquisition killed even a tenth of that, just because the world's population was a lot smaller then. And what of the Inquisition? Done in the name of religion, certainly, but then its opposition were also religious, weren't they? Really, I don't think this makes any sense.

As for the thesis that relgious belief being a sounder basis for morality, it has one big flaw. To the non-believer, belief in God, the God of a particular religion, seems every bit as arbitrary as any other basis.

It might seem to my advantage to bash my neighbor over the head and take his stuff, and rape his woman, but there are several problems with that.

First, I wouldn't want him to do that to me. Call that reciprocity.

Second, I have a clue what that might feel like, if something bad happens to him, I feel bad. Not as much, but some. Call that empathy.

Third, it leads to a very different kind of life, and a very different kind of culture if we allow people to bash their neighbors head in and take their stuff. We wouldn't get much else done, we'd be so suspicious and defensive. There are cultures like that, and they aren't very prosperous. They might be wealthy, because they've taken other people's stuff, but they can't generate it on their own.

You know, it IS scary for people to let go of any moral authority and start creating their own moral universe. It can go terribly wrong. But people do that whether or not they are religious. In the end, it's not the belief that makes a differnce, but how it is taken up by an individual. In more religious terms, it's what's in a person's heart not what they profess, that counts.

By the way, I'm not an atheist. I am perhaps best described as an extreme Protestant. I do not accept any authority over me, except God. I do not accept that any other person has any better idea of what God wants than I do, though some might have better ideas, which I will evaluate.

I take the Bible as inspired by God, as it describes itself. I can't really bring myself to call it inerrant, though. Fortunately, no theology school appointment, pastorship, or church membership turns on that point.

I see nothing about Darwin's work that contradicts the existence of God, or the moral teachings of the Bible, or the Koran, or Confucius, or Buddha, etc. Darwin's work represents a very REAL threat to the authority of established churches and churchmen, too. Theology has lost its' place at the top of the heap, possessing the answers to the biggest questions.

The biggest problem with science is that it deals with facts and theories, but not with truth. Religion attempts to deal with truth, and not get too caught up in the facts.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on May 1, 2008 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

NeilB, that is a fair question, and it sat me back and forced me to think abut it. and I concluded that respect for others got left off because I don't have any for the person I was addressing.

Posted by: volatile compound on May 1, 2008 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

if all people thought carefully and used the correct definition of science, they would realize that someone can refuse to believe evolution, and still practice good science. Then Expelled would have never been made.

First of all, bullshit. refusing to believe in the well-established science of evolution, despite the abundance of data that has supported it for a century, is not practicing good science, period, full stop.

On top of that, those lying Creationists -- and isn't lying sort of contrary to your so-called Christian moral superiority? -- who market their hackery as "intelligent design also do not practice good science. ID is not science any more than astrology is -- less, in fact, since astrology at least can make falsifiable hypotheses.

I just love that you come in here on your high horse, full of piss and vinegar and self righteousness, lecture Kevin on "intelelctual honesty," and then proceed to demonstrate such an astonishingly hidebound, ignorant and bigoted point of view, Hansen. It really says a lot about the Christian morality you espouse.

I am curious, though, about that inerrant Bible you tout. First, how do you know oit's the word of God, except that someone told you? And second, since God tells the Israelites that infanticide is a righteous act, why the beef with abortion?

Posted by: Gregory on May 1, 2008 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen But you must face the fact that atheism takes off the guard rails
Ya know,even Michael Savage,knows this is complete crap.

Posted by: TJM on May 1, 2008 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

Even though I participated in the collective bellowing-at of Mr. Hansen, I have to agree with Dr. Jay at 8:47 that he has to be credited with provoking a good discussion. And we have to give him credit for sticking with it, even when outnumbered.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

I am always amazed at those who feel that I cannot be a moral human if I am an atheist, because fear of an invisible avenger and an eternity of torment is all that keeps them from killing their parents and drinking their blood.

Unlike such "Christians," I never have to struggle against those urges.

I define "morality" as what is good for society as a whole, that which provides justice and fairness for the most people and protects the weak from the strong. I follow the "Golden Rule" because it is true, not because God enforces it.

Who needs an invisible avenger to figure that out?

Posted by: Repack Rider on May 1, 2008 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

Religion does not make people do bad things: Religion provides convenient excuses for people to do what they want to do anyway.

The Albigensian Crusade (whence we got the phrase 'kill them ll, let Gopd sort them out") was not fought by religious fanatics--it was fought by greedy Northern nobles who wanted lands and riches in the South of France. For that matter, that's true of the other Crusades as well.

Genghis Khan needed no God to ravage much of the world. Neither did Tamerlane, neither did Alexander the Great, neither did Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot.

If the fantasy book doesn't do it for you, a science fiction book will do just as well. Norman Spinrad makes the point in his novel The Iron Dream *aka Lords of the Swastika, a Science Fiction Novel by Adolf Hitler* that Nazi Germany was founded on Science Fiction--a romanticized version of badly understood scientific concepts used as an excuse for tribal aggression and naked power and greed. Use The Will of God, The Good of The State, The Future Of The Race, The Virtue of Selfishness--they all work just as well if you're looking for an excuse to kill people, take their stuff, and make folks do what you want them to.

The sincere contemplation of a universe run by a loving God can lead to the leading of a generous, kind, honest and humble life--as can the sincere contemplation of science showing a vast interconnected universe in which our existence is very precarious and we not a very big deal.

It's predators, tyrants and monsters that are the misery of life on Earth.

Posted by: pbg on May 1, 2008 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Religion does not make people do bad things: Religion provides convenient excuses for people to do what they want to do anyway.

The Albigensian Crusade (whence we got the phrase 'kill them ll, let Gopd sort them out") was not fought by religious fanatics--it was fought by greedy Northern nobles who wanted lands and riches in the South of France. For that matter, that's true of the other Crusades as well.

Genghis Khan needed no God to ravage much of the world. Neither did Tamerlane, neither did Alexander the Great, neither did Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot.

If the fantasy book doesn't do it for you, a science fiction book will do just as well. Norman Spinrad makes the point in his novel The Iron Dream *aka Lords of the Swastika, a Science Fiction Novel by Adolf Hitler* that Nazi Germany was founded on Science Fiction--a romanticized version of badly understood scientific concepts used as an excuse for tribal aggression and naked power and greed. Use The Will of God, The Good of The State, The Future Of The Race, The Virtue of Selfishness--they all work just as well if you're looking for an excuse to kill people, take their stuff, and make folks do what you want them to.

The sincere contemplation of a universe run by a loving God can lead to the leading of a generous, kind, honest and humble life--as can the sincere contemplation of science showing a vast interconnected universe in which our existence is very precarious and we not a very big deal.

It's predators, tyrants and monsters that are the misery of life on Earth.

Posted by: pbg on May 1, 2008 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

"I have to agree with Dr. Jay at 8:47 that he has to be credited with provoking a good discussion."

I have to disagree. His posts have been devoid of any substance -- just mindless, knee-jerk nonsense. Had he actually supplied any data, then we might have truly had a discussion. As it is, he convinced no one and generated far more heat than light. It may well be an interesting topic, but it needs someone far more intelligent and knowledgeable than Hansen to pull it off.

Posted by: PaulB on May 1, 2008 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

More like "This is where logical fallacies get us."

You know, I'm a black person. And some of my relatives were slaves. Therefore I should never consider trusting a white person, because he or she is, in the end, only out to enslave me. That's where trusting white people leads you.

This is how much sense Ben Stein (a big Bush backer, needless to say) makes.

Posted by: chuck on May 1, 2008 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Crouch contributed more to the discussion than Hansen.

Posted by: Brojo on May 1, 2008 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

Judging from Mr. Hansen's comments, he seems extremely confused about a) religion, b) transcendentalism, c) ethics, d) philosophy, e) science, and f) history in general. Given what he claims about his background, it's extremely discouraging to see him continually make errors that would get a first-year college student laughed out of school. Either Mr. Hansen did not read his textbooks very well, or he never bothered to learn the material in the first place.

Maybe a belief in Christianity DOES rot the brain.

Posted by: grumpy realist on May 2, 2008 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

he has to be credited with provoking a good discussion. And we have to give him credit for sticking with it, even when outnumbered.

Hansen came in here and made a bunch of bigoted statements about atheists and scientists, opened by chiding Kevin about "intellectual honesty" and then proceeded to demonstrate, yet again and persistently, his inability to distinguish between his beliefs and opinions and facts -- all in the name of giving cover to a bunch of charlatans who are attempting to subvert science in the name of teaching religion with our tax dollars. No sale.

Posted by: Gregory on May 2, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Neil B.

Have you done any real research into textual criticism. Don't you know that "The Gospel of Thomas" is thought to have originated from well into the 2nd century. Try reading the Gospel of Thomas sometime. It just does not have the ring truth like the wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount does. There is very strong evidence that the people who put together the Bible got it right. Of course, I believe that they had spiritual guidance, but that is a matter of faith.

More than that though, my constant study of the Bible for nearly 20 years has revealed the overall coherence of the book. Even the most strident atheist, must be impressed that this Bible has been the inspiration of many for so long of time.

Read the Word, in it is the key to life.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 2, 2008 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

It has been long argued by people smarter than either Stein or Goldberg that Social Darwinism is the bastard child of Darwinism, however, very little real science was involved in the birthing of Social Darwinism.

Social Darwinism is as related to genuine Darwinism as National Socialism is to true socialism.

Posted by: Vincent on May 2, 2008 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

First of all, bullshit. refusing to believe in the well-established science of evolution, despite the abundance of data that has supported it for a century, is not practicing good science, period, full stop.

Swearing and making pronouncements on how something is does not make it more true. I think attitudes like Gregory's actually hurt the field of science. Someone can certainly believe in well established observations like random mutation, and natural selection without swallowing all of the unobserved extrapolation of common descent. What should matter is the ability of a person to observe conditions, construct hypotheses, and design experiments which can answer simple yes or no questions.

Concluding that someone can't do reasonable science unless they toe the department line on how life began is the demagoguery which Expelled is trying to point out. Thank you Gregory for being such a good example of close-mindedness.

Posted by: John Hansen on May 2, 2008 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

In all this talk of atheist verses believers I have to comment that I (and I suspect a fair proportion of my fellow posters) am not an atheist, but rather an agnostic in the original Huxlian sense. I don’t deny the existence of God, just the existence of a God intimately involved in the daily affairs of humans. It takes no great leap of faith to believe God is not involved in the selection of every Texas high school cheer leader, no matter how much they attribute their selection to divine intervention. The claim that God choose W. to be president (remember that one) makes the choice of accepting the possibility that God is ambivalent seem superior to the alternative, that God is malicious.

Posted by: fafner1 on May 2, 2008 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

Swearing and making pronouncements on how something is does not make it more true.

Oh noes, some meanie said "bullshit"! Get John Hansen the fainting couch, stat!

And like it or not, John, science does have a definition, and evolution does have a body of evidence to support it, rejecting which is inherently not science. Your feeble denials don't make them not true.

I think attitudes like Gregory's actually hurt the field of science.

What hurts the field of science is attempts to pass off non-science nonsense as science, and the intellectually dishonest shenanigans of those with that agenda. In this case, in fact, attempts to pass of creationism as science -- and yes, John, the ID movement has acknowledged -- by virtue of a botched search and replace in a document submitted to a court -- that the term is nothing more than a PR stunt to get creation taught in public schools.

That isn't just anti-science, John, that's a lie and an ongoing body of lies in service of a lie -- lies that you're here repeating. Again, I thought that in your so-called vaunted Christian ethics, a lie is a sin?

Someone can certainly believe in well established observations like random mutation, and natural selection without swallowing all of the unobserved extrapolation of common descent.

You're either lying again or simply ignorant. The fossil record is also established observation of common descent. It simply isn't true that is a phenomenon isn't directly observable, then it isn't scientifically proven. We don't see gravity; only its effects. We also don't see continental drift, but that doesn't make the likelihood that South America and Africa were once neighbors "unobserved extrapolation."

Now, if you want to believe in Young Earth Creationism and pretend the Earth isn't old enough for the fossil record to be true, and that all those trilobites died in the Flood or something, that's dandy, but no, you don't then get to call it scientific.

What should matter is the ability of a person to observe conditions, construct hypotheses, and design experiments which can answer simple yes or no questions.

Why, yes, John, you got one right! Absolutely -- which is why ID isn't science, period, full stop. It can't be demonstrated experimentally. You've just proved my contentions for me, thank you.

Concluding that someone can't do reasonable science unless they toe the department line on how life began is the demagoguery which Expelled is trying to point out.

And here's John Intellectual Honesty Hansen once again pulling a bait-and-switch between his previous sentence, which points out that there are established requirements for science -- hypotheses that can be falsified experimentally -- and then whining that ID, which can't do that, is being persecuted by university meanies because it doesn't "toe the department line." Bravo, John.

Moreover, evolution doesn't address how life began -- merely how it evolved once it did begin. But again, since the fact of evolution -- facts that the fossil record establish, whehter the current understanding of the mechanisms of evolution is true or not -- contradicts the Biblical account of creationism, you're again revealing your pro-creationism bias.

To the contrary, Expelled is the demogaguery that seeks to exploit the ignorance of its audience in promoting its agenda not by the rigors of scientific inquiry -- which it can't -- but by appeals to emotion and ignorance.

If ID was really science, it could make its case scientifically. Expelled and the propaganda dished out by the likes of the Discovery Institute is a tacit admission that it can't, and more, that it's perfectly willing to distort and misrepresent actual science in order to achieve its goals.

And that, you twisted, evil cretin, is what leads to Auschwitz.

And of course, Mr. Intellectual Honesty Hansen completely ignores the thrust of my last post, avoiding the questions therein in favor of handwaving distraction about how Rude and Uncivil I was in using the word "bullshit" -- a words whose applicability, sadly, Hansen does not contest, but rather further demonstrates.

Thank you Gregory for being such a good example of close-mindedness.

Thank you very much again, John, for admitting that ID isn't science and that Stein and his crew are a pack of liars and propagandists, and for being such a good example of a self-righteous, intellectually dishonest charlatan.

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

Aw, crap....Remember Personal Info doesn't seem to be working. 8:03 is by me, obviously.

Posted by: Gregory on May 2, 2008 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

I find it weird when religious types, especially Jews, blame Darwin for the holocaust as if their religious traditions had no serious problem with genocide. The old Testament is, in many places, an unapologetic celebration of genocide. The Israelis, having come to the promised land, found that there were people already living there like the city of Jericho. Their response there was to kill every last man, woman and child and then keep their land an property. Yay God! No homo sex, though. That's evil.

Germany during the Nazi regime was full of Catholics and Protestants who were only too happy to kill Jews. Hitler's own religiousity is ambiguous but there can be no doubt where most of his help came from. Thank you, Jesus.

Shut up, Ben Stein, you ignorant slut.

Posted by: Hieronymus Braintree on May 2, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers wrote: "If you are going to elaborate on my point you could at least spell my name correctly."

My apologies for the typo.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 2, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

"Swearing and making pronouncements on how something is does not make it more true."

Neither does mindlessly repeating your assertions without bothering to support them with anything resembling thought, data, logic, or reason. The undeniable fact that you do not know the difference between science and religion, that you do not know the difference between fact and opinion, renders your every argument here null and void.

Posted by: PaulB on May 2, 2008 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Concluding that someone can't do reasonable science unless they toe the department line on how life began"

Neither Darwin nor the Theory of Evolution have one word to say about "how life began". Q.E.D.

"It just does not have the ring truth like the wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount does."

Q.E.D.

"There is very strong evidence that the people who put together the Bible got it right"

No, in fact, there is not, which is why you cannot find any evidence to support this assertion. Q.E.D.

"More than that though, my constant study of the Bible for nearly 20 years has revealed the overall coherence of the book."

Q.E.D.

"if all people thought carefully and used the correct definition of science, they would realize that someone can refuse to believe evolution, and still practice good science"

Q.E.D.

I could go on, but I trust I've made my point. This comment, I think, sums up Hansen:

"or he never bothered to learn the material in the first place"

Bingo. Hansen has quite obviously never bothered to actually do even a minimal amount of research on a topic that, based on his posts here and on his vehemence, is of significant importance to him. Instead, he has chosen to remain ignorant. One has to wonder why.

Posted by: PaulB on May 2, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

If Hansen contributed anything to the conversation about where science leads, it was as an example of the closed American religious mind. Old time religion was good enough for Moses and it is good enough for many Americans, who are intellectually challenged by new ideas and antagonized by challenges to their traditional authority.

Posted by: Brojo on May 2, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK
But then again, if all people thought carefully and used the correct definition of science, they would realize that someone can refuse to believe evolution, and still practice good science.

You can refuse to believe any conclusion of any scientific theory and practice good science; science isn't a belief system. You can't, OTOH, refuse, on grounds that are not themselves proper scientific grounds to accept that something is the best scientific explanation of a defined set of existing observations -- as evolution-deniers do -- and still claim to be practicing science.

In fact, its probably the case that some of the best science is done by people who accept certain established proposition as, so far, the best scientific explanation of the observations but refuse to believe those conclusions; that combination produces a very strong motivation to explore alternatives and test the status quo conclusions. Sometimes, it results in confirming the status quo results, but and sometimes it results in overturning them.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 2, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Misapplied science maybe; remember that "science" is not a batch of data or a thing but a process.

So Ben Stein is working hard to become the white Louis Farrakhan ? What is it with these people & their delusional fear based logic perspective ?

Looks like the inmates are really in charge.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H. L. Mencken

Posted by: daCascadian on May 2, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

But you must face the fact that atheism takes off the guard rails that keep people from moving to a situation like support for eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, ethnic cleansing, etc.

No, what takes the guard rails off of decent, moral behavior is any kind of ideology or belief system that causes one to treat one's fellow human beings as less than fully human based on an arbitrary set of conditions.

Religions are particularly guilty of this kind of behavior. And the followers of Christ are no exception. The history of Christianity is written in the blood of its victims as it spread across Europe using princes to fight proxy wars; as the orthodox slaughtered pagans, heretics, and unbelievers; and as Christian turned on Christian in the religious wars of the middle ages. Rape, murder, torture, oppression, the use of women as property - all these and more have been common tools of the trade of religious folk.

Examples of Christian inhumanity abound throughout history. In a tragedy as bad as the Holocaust, upwards of eight million Inca in South America were killed by "Christians" who literally worked them to death like animals because in their fever for gold they were willing to pretend the Inca weren't human - and greedy popes blessed the whole affair.

That's not to say there aren't good religious people or good Christians or to paint religion as singularly destructive. It is just to show that it is as susceptible or more than humanist philosophies to being used as a tool with which to justify bestial behavior.

Any religion, ideology, philosophy, or emotional state that does not encourage one to be fully present in every moment and work toward a felt empathy with one's fellow humans wherein they are treated as intrinsically and unconditionally precious is, at its worst, potentially a vehicle for savagery.

Historical examples supporting this proposition are so ubiquitious as to remove it from the realm of the arguable.

Posted by: trex on May 2, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen,

I believe the Bible is inerrant in the sense that the original documents are God's communication to the world through human authors.

Thank you for your complete answer. I think I believe similarly to you, including the fact that some of what is in the modern Bible may NOT have been inspired by God and other things inspired by God have NOT been included.

In places the Bible is self-contradictory. Even the four gospel account of the resurrection differ in major ways. Also the very first book, Genesis, says that Noah brought a single pair of each species of animal on the arc and also states that Noah brought seven pairs of the "clean" animals and one pair of each of the others.

Since the Bible is incomplete as well as containing non-inspired passages then how do you tell which is which. How do you know your interpretation is correct?

Pascal's wagers states you better act as though God exists - just in case, but it ignores the fact that there are a zillion beliefs all professing to be the correct interpretation of God, so picking any one is risky.

Why are some of the laws in Leviticus ignored and some given absolute credence? Why do you fight so hard against evolution (which isn't even addressed in the Bible, and certainly not in the New testament) and ignore so much of the rest?

How do you know that when the printed Bible of today says in English "God created Man in his own image" it didn't originally mean "God created the process (including evolution) which has led to Mankind at this stage and will eventually lead to mankind being in God's image?

Why is your interpretation better than mine?

Posted by: Tripp on May 2, 2008 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

To answer the born-again physicists question - One is baptised by being immersed in the quantum sea and observing the God particle they are about to discover with the Large Hadron collider.

Posted by: Tripp on May 2, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Pascal's wagers states you better act as though God exists - just in case, but it ignores the fact that there are a zillion beliefs all professing to be the correct interpretation of God, so picking any one is risky.

I've bet on Zeus, myself.

Posted by: Stefan on May 2, 2008 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

Dead thread, I know.
Just saying that Hansen triggered a stimulating discussion. Hell, GW Bush has triggered plenty of stimulating discussions, too.

Posted by: thersites on May 2, 2008 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Gaza is the new death shower.

Sadr City is the new killing field.

The regions of genocidal mass murder today are the results of racist ideologies abetted by technology, just like the Holocaust was.

Posted by: Brojo on May 3, 2008 at 4:08 AM | PERMALINK

Like I said, the guy is stupid, and what makes it worse, he's a calculating stupid.

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